Labor and Public Employees Committee
JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT
AN ACT INCLUDING CERTAIN MENTAL OR EMOTIONAL IMPAIRMENTS WITHIN THE DEFINITION OF "PERSONAL INJURY" UNDER THE WORKERS' COMPENSATION STATUTES.
Joint Favorable Substitute
SPONSORS OF BILL:
Labor and Public Employees Committee
REASONS FOR BILL:
Job related mental or emotional impairment is not covered in standard workers' compensation coverage.
**Substitute Language: LCO 4119:
1) Requires a PTSD diagnosis for eligibility;
2) Requires the diagnosing professional to be a licensed and board certified mental health professional, rather than a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist; and
3) Requires the police officer or firefighter to have seen the death or maiming in the line of duty, instead of through a causal connection with their employment.
RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:
NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:
Brian Anderson, Legislative Representative, Council 4 AFSCME
Mr. Anderson testified currently thirty-two states cover PTSD in their workers' compensation systems and has not experienced fiscal harm as a result. Costs would be contained by requiring a licensed professional to certify any employee experiencing work-related trauma to make them eligible for the coverage. In the states currently providing this coverage, the costs paid out account for less than .5% of the total dollars for all workers' compensation claims, including mental and physical combined. This bill covers a much smaller population of just police officers and firefighters and that would result in a much lower cost than one half of one percent. This is a humane bill that will allow for officers and firefighters who are suffering from PTSD to return to work and which is less costly to the governments, families and the public.
Dave Beaton, Vice-President, Hamden Professional Firefighters Local 2687
Mr. Beaton has been the Employee Assistance Program liaison since 2005 between the Fire Union and the Town of Hamden. He testified that as firefighters dealing with record calls and trauma and death far too often, the impact on firefighters is alarming. Mr. Beaton points out that trauma is cumulative, PTSD is real and it impacts everyone differently. He believes that passing this bill will help his members get help, when they need the help.
Richard Hart, Director, Uniformed Professional Fire Fighters Association of Connecticut
Mr. Hart testified in support of this proposal. Stating, the typical firefighter's career last approximately 27 years and the longer the career, the more exposure to traumatic events that can cause PTSD symptoms. The prevalence of PTSD for firefighters is twice that of the general population and comparable to the incidents of PTSD in recent combat veterans. But the cost of providing this coverage is an infinitesimal amount compared to the potential losses municipalities would incur if PTSD is left untreated. Mr. Hart believes that allowing for sufficient time to receive treatment without the need to rush back to work will only aid in the recovery and return to duty of personnel.
Rani Hoff, PhD, MPH, Director, NEPEC, Office of Mental Health Operations VA Central Office
Dr. Hoff testified in support for this legislation. Pointing out that PTSD is different from being “really stressed”. There are specific symptoms that must be present at the same time, and of a sufficient duration, in order to meet diagnostic criteria for the disorder. The deleterious effects of PTSD symptoms on firefighter performance in particular may result in a reduction in public safety for a number of reasons:
● Severe nightmares and the inability to sleep is a common symptom.
● Occasionally, individuals with PTSD can suddenly experience a “reliving” of a traumatic experience in the past, and such sudden episodes could be triggered by particularly stressful situations.
● Even if a firefighter is able to basically function while experiencing symptoms of PTSD, such symptoms certainly reduce quality of life.
In addition, urged the committee to reduce the risk of misuse of this benefit, and to increase the impact of this benefit for public safety, by imposing some requirements on such claims. Secondly, the payment of such claims is predicated upon documented evidence that an individual is receiving an evidence based treatment for PTSD. Pointing out that there are a number of very well documented and nationally accepted treatments, including appropriate medication, specific evidence-based psychotherapies or a combination of both.
Dr. Hoff believes that claims should only be granted only for individuals who have been diagnosed by a mental health professional, and who can document that they are receiving an evidence-based treatment for PTSD.
Chris Kick, Self
Supports this bill, he testified by telling his story when he responded to the call of a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Mr. Kick wanted everyone to understand that his family, he, his wife and his children have been dealing with a tragic aftermath. He also testified about the aftermath dealing with PTSD, Therapists, Doctors and Fit-for-Duty (see testimony).
Melanie Kolek, Legal Counsel, Connecticut Education Association
Supports the proposed legislation, however believes that the language is tailored to only a particular, but understandably important, type of work-place setting, subject to proving that the act itself that caused the Impairment was “visually witnessed” by the employee and that was done so in the “immediate aftermath” of death or maiming. Ms. Kolek proposes that the language of SB 27 be expanded to include all employees and types of mental impairments arising out of and in the course of one's employment, not just those arising from a physical injury or as a proposed in this bill, not just those arising out of an act wherein a death or maiming occurs.
Tom Kuroski, President, Newtown Federation of Teachers AFT Local 1727
President Kuroski testified on behalf of AFT-CT and all workers in the state, in support of the bill. He testified about the lives of his members that were changed forever after the Sandy Hook tragedy. It is far from over; every year brings new challenges and accomplishments. Each person's path to recovery is unique. He states that he has been advocating for amendments to Chapter 586 of the general statues that would expand workers' compensation benefits that cover treatment for mental and emotional injuries in the workplace. President Kuroski encouraged that the legislators embrace every effort that would require workers' compensation to cover these workplace injuries, including offering support for Senate Bill 27. Further stating; that when injuries occur in the workplace, whether they are physical, mental or emotional, we must provide parity of coverage and treatment in workers' compensation statute.
Testified in support of the bill, His family was impacted by the Sandy Hook tragedy (Father in law to Chris Kick). Mr. Marchetti spoke of PTSD, stating that it is not new, yet he believes that the CSP is not equipped or staffed to deal with it today, let alone back in 2012. CSP has a policy for treating the accompanying symptoms of PTSD such as substance abuse, but as structured ignores what is necessary to focus on the cause, PTSD. It is his belief that the statues as written today are the cause of the conundrum. Officers are sent to Rehab for 30 days, returned to work and are administered a fitness for duty test, and put right back in the environment which reinforces their issues. This becomes an endless cycle which could result in termination, lost benefits and well deserved pensions.
Andrew Matthews, President, Connecticut State Police Union
Urges passage of this bill. He testified on behalf of his membership speaking of the great pride they take in protecting all of Connecticut's citizens and visitors. However, many times that protection comes at a significant personal sacrifice. President Matthews Points:
● Often, Police Officers, Fireman, and EMS personnel are forced to witness alarming scenes that forever live in their minds, even long after they retire.
● As, first responders, they not only live with the daily stress of possibly losing their lives but are required to witness the death, injury, violence and trauma to members of the public.
● As a result, a manifestation of psychological injuries incurred during employment should be viewed no differently than physical injuries sustained while conducting hazardous duties. An injury to the brain, a vital organ of the body, needs to be treated and triaged in the same manner that physical injuries are treated.
Lori Pelletier, President, Connecticut AFL-CIO
Submitted testimony on behalf of AFL-CIO and the 900 affiliated local unions she represents. She states that the world has changed a great deal since our workers' compensation statue was first enacted. Fire fighters, police officers and other first responders regularly encounter the kinds of workplace situations that could trigger mental or emotional injuries, she points out that they are not alone. When injuries occur in the workplace, whether they are physical, mental or emotional, we must provide parity of coverage and treatment in our workers' compensation statue. President Pelletier urges passage of the bill and believes the bill should apply to all workers.
Bob & Patti Shea, Attorneys, Police Officers Association of Connecticut
Strongly supports the bill. They offer the following as what they believe primary benefits should be:
A police officer can inform his/her supervisors that the officer is struggling with PTSD symptoms following a tragic, traumatic event, and the officer cannot be terminated from employment;
● A police officer can take some time off from work to seek treatment; and that police officer should not lose pay for seeking help;
● The bills for the officer's treatment with a qualified licensed healthcare provider should be covered;
● At the appropriate time, the police officer can obtain long term disability coverage, again, without losing pay and without losing his/her employment.
Glenn Terlecki, President, Connecticut Police and Fire Union
Supports the bill but is concerned that the existing language of the current statue excludes a large number of police and firefighters because of the wording used to define a police officer or firefighter. There are multiple definitions and they are confusing and frustrating for the men and women in these professions. Every time new legislation is proposed or a statue is amended, the prospect of inadvertently excluding certain individuals is a real concern. President Terlecki encourages passage of this legislation and ask that his proposed amendment to include firefighters and police officers employed by the State of Connecticut.
NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:
Deberey Hinchey, Mayor of Norwich, State of CT
Mayor Hinchey expressed his deep gratitude for the work that his Police and Firefighters perform 24 hours a day. However, he has serious concerns with this bill:
● The financial implications – They could range from tens of thousands dollars, to over 1 million for the duration of the claim.
● Mandates – Norwich has been working with leaders to advocate for the reduction of unfunded mandates. Striving at all times to make sound financial decisions. Mandates such as this make it very difficult for budgets; this proposal will allow the Town very little control.
● Overtime – Coverage for replacements of affected responders would be financially impactful. The Town offers health insurance, disability leave and Employee Assistance Programs, which are all negotiated through labor relations.
Mayor Hinchey is concerned with some of the language in the bill, He points to terms such as “visually witnessing”. The definition of “death” and “maiming” has broad interpretations.
Kathryn Dube, Connecticut Council of Small Towns
Testified and urged the committee to oppose this bill. Ms. Dube believes that this bill will increase state workers' compensation cost and expanding workers' compensation benefits will further strain local budgets and put more pressure on towns to increase property taxes or make cuts in programs or personnel.
George Temple, First Selectman, Town of Oxford
Although Selectman Temple believes the bill is well intended, it will have a severe economic impact on Connecticut towns and cities. It is another unfunded mandate, especially in these trying times. In his view every department has one or two officers who know the system and work it to their advantage and believes that the vagueness of the bill will assist those officers in their efforts
Daniel Giungi, Senior Legislative Associate, Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM)
CCM opposes SB27 for many reasons, among them is that the bill will mandate full wage replacement workers' compensation benefits for all state and local police and/or career and volunteer firefighters, diagnosed with a mental or emotional impairment as the result of visually witnessing the death or maiming, or the immediate aftermath of death or maiming of another human being. The bill would be dependent on “,,,unknown and highly variable factors.” Mr. Giungi points out that Towns and cities cannot afford to pay these benefits without help from the state. In addition he points out the overly broad bill would increase municipal exposure to potential fraud. CCM acknowledges the important role of public safety employees.
Reported by: Virginia L. Monteiro
Date: March 30, 2017